7 Secrets of Effective Presentations

A presentation is only both effective and enjoyable when it is understandable. If you want your audience to take away as much as possible from your presentation, to be clear on its main points and to avoid costly misunderstandings, you have to work on making it more comprehensible.

In their book Rhetorik & Kommunikation (Ernst Reihardt Verlag München, 2010 -pp.61-73), Allhof & Allhof set forth 7 important rules for improving your presentation skills. They have to do with: structure, simplicity, choice of information, interest & curiosity, visuals, presentation style and speaking manner. Below, we address them one by one.

1. Structure and organize your speech

This is probably the single most important aspect of a good presentation. Start with a brief overview of the topics you intend to cover, so that people can draw a mental map of what they need to pay particular attention to and where you are going with your presentation. If you touch on several points, name them and state their number up front. It makes them easier to follow and it makes it easier for people to take notes. “Today we are going to address 4 different issues: No. 1 – a, No. 2 -b, No.3 – c and No.4 – d… etc.”

Be clear about your own line of thought and use a deductive rather than an inductive approach. When listening, people have an easier time following you if you start with a general situation and then move on to a particular case.

Use your voice to make this inner structure outwardly clear. Remember, when speaking there are no bold, italicized or capital letters to bring what’s important to the fore. So use your voice to underline the important facts instead.

When speaking, it is important to sum things up when you move from one section of your speech to the next – even if you repeat yourself. “Thus, the answer to our first question is… “ or “We have now seen how No.1 works. But what about No.2?” or “I am going to summarize now the first point we’ve discussed today, namely…”

Always summarize the material again at the very end.

2. Use simple, clear expressions

Three factors are important here:

A.  Use short phrases in the active voice

B.  Avoid too many neologisms and technical terms.

If they are unavoidable, introduce them by presenting and clarifying the underlying concept first, and only then by bringing in acronyms or jargon (e.g.:  ‘a computer software used to simplify the work of the translator is called a CAT Tool’. If you do it the other way around – i.e. by introducing the acronym first – half your audience will immediately start wondering about cats… 😉 . Write unfamiliar words and concepts on the board or flip chart for better memorization. When talking to a multicultural audience, consider possible cultural decoding filters and avoid messages with more than one possible meaning or tricky slang.

C.  Keep your presentation concrete.

The following quotient is a good indicator: N=AN/TN, where AN = abstract nouns and TA = total nouns in your text. A value of up to 0.15 is considered concrete, while anything above 0.30 is very abstract and difficult to comprehend.

3. Select information carefully

Present only that information which is relevant, makes sense and contains just enough details without exceeding the allotted time. Remember that different audiences belonging to different cultures can have different intervals of patient listening – Germans and Finns can sit still and absorb technical facts for over an hour, while Americans and Latins are probably best served by 45 minutes with humorous interludes.

4. Stir interest & curiosity, elicit involvement

Adjust your presentation to your audience’s particular circumstances, their problems, motivations and – if possible – emotions. Make your presentation relevant to your target audience. Use comparisons and examples, rhetorical questions, exclamation, buzz words and wit. 

5. Use visuals

Blackboards, flip charts, overhead projectors and – nowadays – beamers are valuable resources in delivering a great presentation. Use them wisely. When writing on a board or pointing to a chart, keep facing your audience whenever possible, do not turn your back on them. When using slides, keep them simple – they should only contain a readable amount. Less is more.

6. Adjust your presentation style to your target audience

Different audiences have different needs and different levels of listening comprehension. Consider your audience educational and professional background, their ethnic heritage and level of information in the field, as well as their current situation and convictions regarding your topic.

7. Choose an appropriate speaking manner

End a sentence by making your voice lower. When you are making a point and you are done, the full-stop has to be clear from your voice. Make pauses and articulate clearly. Do not talk as if you are constantly adding comma after comma in your speech – people will be able to remember considerably less and it will strain their nerves! Do not speak with your voice pitched too high and do not speak so fast that people lose track of what you’re saying. Do not speak too slow, either, choose a speed that’s appropriate for your audience. Vary the speed, pitch and tone of your voice to carry your message across more effectively and to give your presentation that additional pizzazz.

I hope this is useful!


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